Anti-torture bill a step closer to 2nd parliamentary reading

The Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF), a local human rights organisation, reports that a draft bill criminalising torture and enforced disappearance is nearing completion.  Last September, a preliminary draft passed a first reading in parliament.  According to CrCF, which has been involved in revising the draft for a 2nd reading, it will be finalised by 22 December. 

A rally poster held by the anti-torture bill supporter. (File photo)

Over the course of 27 meetings, the draft committee has determined that the new law will have 15 important provisions, as follows:

  1. The criminalisation of torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading practices including enforced disappearance, in keeping with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CED)
  2. A stipulation that the law cannot be revoked for any reason including war, domestic political instability, or a declared state emergency
  3. A recognition that injured parties include parents, offspring, and spouses, de jure and de facto, allowing them to file legal proceedings on behalf of victims
  4. No statute of limitations for acts criminalised under the law
  5. A provision granting prosecutors and administrative officers investigative powers
  6. A provision dictating that prosecutors, Department of Special Investigation officers and administrative personnel have the duty to inform victims of their rights, including the right to seek compensation
  7. A stipulation that cases be investigated to the fullest possible extent to ascertain the fate of victims, the details of the crime, and the identities of the individuals who perpetrated it
  8. A stipulation granting the Court of Justice jurisdiction in all cases including those involving military officers who might otherwise be tried by military tribunals
  9. A clause forbidding the forcible deportation of foreign nationals if there is cause to believe that deportation will place them at risk of torture or other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment
  10. The establishment of an anti-torture and enforced disappearance committee consisting of 7 government officers and 7 experts with power to check detention centres and submit situation report and comments on policy to the cabinet and parliament
  11. A clause stipulating that video and photo records be produced for all detentions and that arresting officers immediately notify local prosecutors and administrative officers
  12. A stipulation that those responsible for detaining a suspect make an arrest record that includes the identity of the person being held, the date and time of the arrest and release, and the details of the official who issued the detention order
  13. A provision guaranteeing marital partners, parents, offspring and their lawyers access to information about the victim’s fate and detention location. In the event those responsible for the detention refuse to share the information, the courts will have the authority to order them to do so.
  14. A provision granting marital partners, parents, offspring, prosecutors, administrative personnel, and investigation officers the right to petition the court to obtain information, end violations of the law, change detention arrangements, and request the release of a detainee to meet with relatives, lawyers and specialists who can ascertain their physical and mental condition
  15. A provision prohibiting the use of evidence derived through torture, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatments in courtroom proceedings.

The draft will make it illegal for the authorities to secretly detain and torture people, mandating prison sentences for guilty officials and their commanding officers.  It will also allow victims’ relatives to file complaints as injured parties to seek compensation for victims and their families.

If passed, the law will provide clear legal benchmarks to end the impunity that the authorities have heretofore enjoyed, there being no clear prohibition on torturing people to extract information or confessions and for making people disappear.

Public pressure to pass the law rises whenever enforced disappearance and torture cases hit the news. Last August, interest surged  after former Pol Col Thitisant Utthanaphon or ‘Joe Ferrari’, a high-profile police officer, was videoed covering the head of an alleged drug dealer with 6 plastic bags, leading to his suffocation and death.

Since the 2014 coup, nine activists have been forcibly disappeared while living in self-imposed exile. Two were later found dead. The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances 2020 report notes 75 outstanding cases of enforced disappearance in Thailand.

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